June 23, 2024
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June 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Some families have favorite jokes. Some have favorite recipes. As a chaplain, I have favorite stories. The following story has become known in my house as “The Scarf Story.” It has made a long-lasting impression on me and on all those who hear it.

M.C. was a young, Jewish man in his early 30s, not married, whom I had been visiting twice a week in a local hospital for several months. The cancer that he had and all of the treatment side effects made M completely bald, his body very frail and left him feeling so extremely weak. Yet, M rarely complained and always managed to squeeze out a smile whenever I would visit with him. He was grateful for each and every day he was alive and would often express that to me during our visits, if he was able to muster out the energy to speak. M’s parents were always present with him, acting not only as his parents, but as his advocates, friends and nurses. Rarely did they leave his side.

At the same time that I was visiting with M, on a personal level my 16-year-old daughter Gila became a leader in a special teen organization under the dynamic leadership of Rabbi Goldin of the Teaneck Chabad. The group brings teens together by providing various activities in order to “give back” to their community. Each month, Gila, her co-chairs (close friends of hers) and Rabbi Goldin would decide on an activity. “The Board” as they would call themselves, would pick a date, get their friends together for the agreed-upon activity. One time, it was visiting the elderly in a nursing home and painting pictures with them. Another time, it was delivering packages to physically and mentally challenged adults. Each month brought more excitement for Gila and her friends as they always looked with anticipation toward the next event.

As the holiday of Chanukah was approaching, Gila and the board decided to make scarves (as gifts) to deliver to children in the local hospital; the same hospital that I also happened to visit at the time. One night I had about 20 girls in my home, each girl listening to the careful instructions of Rabbi Goldin on how to make scarves from felt material. Scissors, string and neon-colored felt material were flying all over my basement. The girls had a blast as they pieced together the necessary materials to create these scarves. The scarves were to be hand delivered to any child in the hospital at that time. These scarves were made with love, joy, care and excitement.

The following week on one evening of Chanukah, Rabbi Goldin took the girls to the hospital to deliver the scarves. For many of the girls, this act of Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick), was a first-time experience. Two hours later, Gila came home in the most wonderful of moods, feeling so uplifted. She had mentioned that instead of going to the children’s floor there was a slight last-minute change in their plan and the group visited with the adult patients instead. She spoke of how grateful those Jewish patients were to receive their Chanukah gift and how they were so happy to get visitors. All of the girls loved the experience and told Rabbi Goldin how much they would be interested in doing this again.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that given the change in plan, there was a chance that Gila had met “my” special patient. I wondered… By asking some probing questions and without disclosing any names, I concluded that she did, in fact, see my patient M and met his parents. I was eager to go to the hospital the next day to tell M and his parents that one of the girls that had visited the night before was my daughter!

The next day, as I entered the dimly lit room, I immediately noticed the bright, neon yellow and navy scarf on M’s very pale neck. M was sleeping.

The following is the conversation which took place:

“Mrs. C,” I said to M’s mom, “I heard you were visited by a group of girls last night.”

“Yes!” she said, “They were all such sweet girls. They really helped cheer M up. They sang some Chanukah songs and gave M this scarf.”

She pointed to the scarf and paused.

“Yes! Very nice!” I remarked. “One of those girls in that group happened to have been my daughter. Isn’t that funny?”

“That is! Now that you mention it, one of them did look like you. But you know, Debby,” she said, “You are not going to believe what I am about to tell you. Literally five minutes before your daughter and her friends entered the room, M was extremely chilly and mentioned to me how he could use a scarf. And then these girls walked in and gave M exactly what he needed—a scarf!”

Chills went through my body.

Mrs. C had been in a bit of shock when this took place and was still in awe while re-telling what had happened. I was also in a bit of shock myself. We both looked into each other’s eyes with an intense spiritual connection. There was a certain eeriness in the room. No words needed to be spoken in that moment. There was an understood sort of silence between the two of us. We felt God’s presence.

We knew that this was not by chance that my daughter “happened” to go to this particular hospital where I had been going, “happened” to visit with the adults (even though the gifts were supposed to be for the children), “happened” to give out the gift of a scarf, which “happened” to have been needed in that exact moment.

In Judaism, we do not believe in random events. God places us where we need to be and when we need to be there. In this sense, we all act as agents of God, even though it is often very difficult for us to see and understand in the actual moment.

May this Chanukah help remind us all on an individual level and on a collective level, to try and notice God’s light in moments of darkness.

Debby Pfeiffer lives in Bergenfield, NJ, and is a chaplain in the process of obtaining board certification.

By Debby Pfeiffer

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